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Somalia Takes Issue with Kenya's Flight Ban - 2003-06-23

Somalia's transitional government is protesting Kenya's decision to ban all flights to and from Somalia because of a terrorism threat.

Somalia Information Minister Abdurahman Ibbi said the flight ban could potentially stall the Somali peace talks, which have been taking place in Nairobi since last year.

Mr. Ibbi said traditional elders and other representatives need to travel to Nairobi to complete the final phase of the peace talks, aimed at ending Somalia's more than ten-year-old civil war.

"They are not here. They cannot come. The conference cannot go ahead without them coming here," Mr. Ibbi said.

Mr. Ibbi added that Kenyan and Somali businesspeople are already feeling the impact of the flight ban. He estimated that both sides could lose up to $300,000 per day in trade and other business.

This trade largely involves the sale and distribution of a plant called khat, whose leaves act as a mild stimulant when chewed. The khat leaves are in high demand in Somalia.

Saturday, the Kenyan government banned all flights to and from Somalia, citing an unspecified terrorism threat. Kenyan Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Job Omino said by stopping potential terrorists from coming into Kenya from Somalia, the Kenyan government is doing what it can to protect its people.

"The government perceived it to be the appropriate time to put a stop to those flights," Mr. Omino said.

The move follows Friday's closure of the American embassy in Nairobi because of what U.S. officials call "new and concrete information" concerning the continuing threat of terrorist activity in Kenya and east Africa.

The United Nations is also concerned about the ban, which covers relief flights into war-torn Somalia. A U.N. official said the organization is asking Kenya to allow it to deliver aid to those Somalis who need it.

Somalia has long had a reputation of being a haven for terrorists and arms dealers in the region. The country has no permanent central government or infrastructure to keep track of terrorists' movements and activities.